We told everyone we weren’t going to the Galapagos since we had already planned one expensive island excursion to Easter Island. However once I arrived to Cuenca, I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for last minute deals for cruises in the Galapagos. It is said that the best way to experience the Galapagos is via cruise, and now that I am writing this after the fact, I couldn’t agree more.
During my first day in Cuenca a sidewalk sign caught my eye, advertising a last minute 4-day/3-night cruise to the Galapagos at the end of July. I had heard that there were tour agencies all over Quito and Guayaquil that sell last minute cruises, but I did not know that Cuenca offered them too.
I visited five travel agencies. The prerequisite was a 5- or 4-day cruise, anytime between July 4th and July 26th. One never got back to me, two were too expensive for me, and one claimed to not have any last minute deals due to the high season. However, one company found me a last minute deal: a 4-day/3-night cruise from July 9 through July 12 (my birthday, yay!) on a first-class yacht (Monserrat) for $920 pp, about half off the normal price. (I know it sounds pricey, but any bit of research on prices for cruises in the Galapagos will reveal just how jaw-dropping costs and logistics can be.) I probably could have bargained it down even more by claiming we were 2 people instead of 1 or that we were going to and from the airport independently, but because it was the first travel company that made me an appealing offer, I decided not to bargain.
Rather than booking my airline with the travel agency, I opted to book our own airline tickets for more flexibility. Buffering the cruise with 3 nights before and 3 nights after proved to be more than just a win-win situation; not only was it cheaper and more flexible, it gave us a total of 10 days to spend in the Galapagos! We would fly from Guayaquil (which is actually cheaper than flying out of Quito) and then return to Quito, and we would also be flying on a Monday and Wednesday, the cheapest days of the week to fly. What normally would have been a $500-$550 flight was $430, and what normally would have been a $1800-$2000 cruise was $920. Romping and Nguyening!
So on Thursday, July 2, I booked our flights to the Galapagos for the following Monday, July 6, and the cruise for July 9-12. In less than a week, we’d return to the familiar pleasures of the beach and ocean, we’d dive into true “vacation mode,” and most importantly, we’d see the famous wildlife of the Galapagos.
The airfare and cruise weren’t the only items with a hefty price tag. There was also the $20 entry card and the $100 national park fee. One day of scuba diving was also a must for us, and it seems as if diving in the Galapagos may be one of the most expensive places in the world to dive. Don’t forget lodging, food, and other excursions! I was saving at least a thousand dollars by booking last minute, but I was also going to spend more than a thousand dollars by simply going to the Galapagos.
We ended up paying an additional $170 each to make 2 dives at Gordon Rocks (perhaps the best dive site in the Galapagos), and an additional $145 each for a last-minute land excursion to North Seymour Island. There were cheaper dive shops but I wanted to dive with a reputable company (we went with Galapagos Travellers and had a fantastic time), and I shopped around for excursions to North Seymour and the best deal was $145 as opposed to the typical $160 tours.
We opted to walk around the main town of Santa Cruz Island upon arrival to check out hostels and prices. The standard fare for a double room with private bath, hot water, air con, and wifi was $20 pp. We spent our first three nights paying $20 pp at Costa del Pacifico, but later found another basic hotel for $15 pp per night at Hotel Santa Cruz. Cheap accommodation in the Galapagos actually exists, unlike Patagonia or Easter Island!
Unlike Easter Island, food in the Galapagos was fortunately not absurdly outrageous as one would expect for remote islands in the Pacific. We brought in granola from Guayaquil and bought yogurt and bananas for breakfast everyday, and most of our lunches and dinners were cheap $4 meals that included soup, entrée, and juice. Only a couple times would we “splurge” on shared meals that cost $20+ (a pizza dinner for my birthday, and a sushi dinner another night).
So what was the grand total for my 10-day “budget” trip to the Galapagos?
Airfare (Guayaqil -> Galapagos & Galapagos -> Quito) $430
4-day/3-night cruise $920
Tips for the cruise $75
Departure card $20
National Park Fee $100
Scuba Diving $170
One Land Excursion to North Seymour $140
6 nights at hotels $105
Food, snacks, beverages for 6 days (approx. cost) $80
Transportation to/from the airport $16
$2,056 might seem a bit steep for 10 days in the Galapagos, but as I’ve stated earlier, once you do your own research on the Galapagos, you’ll have a better understanding of the prices. Typical 4-day/3-night cruises excluding domestic airfare typically range from $1,800-$2,000. One woman I spoke with spent about $2,100 on the same cruise I paid $920 for because she booked it in advance. No trip to the Galapagos will ever be cheap (it is already at least $500 for the domestic flight + $120 for the entry fees), but with flexibility in your schedule, it is possible to save hundreds or thousands of dollars. While in Santa Cruz we even saw a last minute 7-day live aboard deal to Darwin & Wolf for only $1,900 which was normally $5,900!!! The Galapagos truly is as amazing as everyone says it is and we are both glad to have scuba dived and experienced it via cruise.